What Does That Song Mean?

The chickadee makes at least 15 different calls to communicate with its flock-mates and offspring. PHOTO: Nature Mapping Foundation

The chickadee makes at least 15 different calls to communicate with its flock-mates and offspring. PHOTO: Nature Mapping Foundation

Chickadees have one of the most unique and varied vocal repertoires. Few backyard birds are as beloved as the Black-capped Chickadee. The boldly patterned chickadee is perky, trusting – and it seems to introduce itself by calling its name – chick-a-dee. But when a chickadee voices its namesake call – using a host of variations – it’s most likely maintaining contact with its mate, scolding a predator, or announcing a food source. These chickadee calls, distinct from songs, are uttered by both sexes and may be voiced year-round. What do they communicate?

The American Scientist has some thoughts:

In winter months in many regions, the only bird sounds you may consistently hear arechick-a-dee calls. The source of those calls is likely to be a group of parids interacting with one another and with any number of other species of birds. Parids are commonly thenuclear species—the core members of mixed-species flocks; they are often joined for periods of time by satellite species such as nuthatches, kinglets, woodpeckers, goldcrests and treecreepers. The behavior of these nonparid species is affected by the presence or absence of parids and also by the parids’ chick-a-dee calls. As such, understanding social cohesion and group movement of these mixed-species flocks requires an understanding of parid signaling systems.

Read more here.

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